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Monster growth! The cruise boom at Carnival continues with debut of another new ship

Make that five new ships for Carnival Cruise Line in just 18 months.

The world’s second-biggest cruise brand on Thursday welcomed the first cruisers aboard yet another new vessel, the 4,126-passenger Carnival Firenze, in Long Beach, California.

The 135,156-ton ship is debuting just four months after Carnival unveiled the even bigger 5,374-passenger Carnival Jubilee and 11 months after the line began operating the 4,090-passenger Carnival Venezia.

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The latter two ships operate out of Galveston, Texas, and New York City, respectively. Carnival Venezia also spends part of the year sailing out of Port Canaveral, Florida.

Over the past 18 months, Carnival has also added the Miami-based, 5,374-passenger Carnival Celebration and the Australia-based, 2,260-passenger Carnival Luminosa. Carnival Luminosa also spends part of the year sailing out of Seattle.

The addition of the five ships to the Carnival fleet over such a short time span marks one of the fastest expansions of any cruise brand in the history of cruising.

With the addition of the five ships, Carnival now has a record 27 vessels in its fleet.

A new ship with an asterisk

Scheduled to sail year-round out of Long Beach, California, Carnival Firenze is a new ship for Carnival, but it’s new with an asterisk. The 15-deck-high vessel has sailed before for another cruise line, Italy-based Costa Cruises.

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Originally called Costa Firenze, the vessel sailed its maiden voyage for Costa, a sister brand to Carnival, in July 2021, making it nearly three years old.

Carnival Firenze is just one of several Costa vessels that Carnival Corporation, the parent company of Costa and Carnival, has transferred from Costa to Carnival in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Carnival staffers welcome the first passengers aboard Carnival Firenze. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

The pandemic and its aftermath hurt the Costa brand much more than the Carnival brand. This was in part because the Costa brand had big operations in China, where cruising shut down during the pandemic for far longer than it did in North America.

Carnival operates most of its ships out of U.S. ports and draws a lot of the customers for these ships from the states near these ports — a segment of close-to-home cruising that has been booming since cruising resumed in 2021.

The result has been a stronger demand for Carnival ships than Costa ships.

Carnival Firenze’s first sailing for Carnival, starting Thursday, will be a seven-night voyage to the Mexican Riviera that includes stops at Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas.

Carnival cruising with an Italian twist

Like Carnival Venezia, which also is a former Costa ship, Carnival Firenze is something of an outlier in the Carnival fleet as the vessel retains much of its Italian theming from when it sailed for Costa.

The ship also still has its original, distinctive gold-and-blue funnel that is a trademark of Costa’s vessels.

That said, Carnival Firenze won’t be devoid of Carnival’s signature shipboard venues. In recent months, the ship has undergone a significant overhaul in a dry dock in Spain that included the re-theming of many interior eateries and bars, as well as top-deck attractions to make them more consistent with the Carnival brand.

For instance, the ship will have a Carnival Waterworks water play area and a Steakhouse — a signature Carnival venue.

Related: The 8 classes of Carnival Cruise Line ships, explained

Other venues now on the ship that will be familiar to Carnival fans include a Guy Fieri-inspired Guy’s Burger Joint, a Bonsai Sushi eatery, a Chef’s Table, Lido Marketplace, Seafood Shack, a Pizzeria del Capitano pizza outlet and a Heroes Tribute Bar.

The ship also will have a new crew made up of Carnival staffers.

In short, Carnival Firenze will combine elements of both Costa and Carnival ships.

Carnival originally planned to call the ship a “Costa by Carnival” product to differentiate it from the rest of the Carnival fleet, but it eventually switched to marketing Carnival Firenze as a vessel that offers “Carnival Fun Italian Style.”

Carnival Firenze, notably, was originally purpose-built to sail out of China with Chinese travelers but with Italian theming that played up Costa’s Italian roots. Its theming is specifically tied to Florence, Italy — Firenze is what Italians call Florence.

The Carnival and Costa brands have long had similarities that make a transfer of ships between the two lines less complex than one might think. Ships for both Costa and Carnival often are built on the same platforms — that is, they share the same basic structural design and rough interior spaces. In such cases, the main difference between the ships of the two brands is the theming of specific spaces.

As of this week, fares for Carnival Firenze sailings start at $214 per person, not including taxes and fees, for a four-night sailing from Long Beach to Mexico.

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